The Big Fight-Sisterdale

Jack Hays’ Big Fight at Walker’s Creek

In Sisterdale, on Sunday June 8th, historical enthusiasts from across Kendall County and beyond are observing the 170th anniversary of the battle of Walker’s Creek – Jack Hays’ Big fight at the Sisterdale Dance Hall.

Jack Hays came to Texas late in 1836, worked as a surveyor, and commanded a roving Ranger company based in San Antonio in the 1840s. The Big Fight on Walker Creek made his name; one of the many brush-fire fights between Hays’ Rangers and Comanche raiders, who came down from the Southern Plains to make free with any horses, captives and portable loot they could carry away. In the summer of 1844, Captain Hays took a patrol of fourteen volunteers into the hills, looking for Indian raiding parties. One of his men was a Yankee from Maryland – Sam Walker, who had survived the Texian raid on Mier, the Black Bean Draw and an escapee from a stint in a Mexican prison. They were returning along an old trail between San Antonio and the deserted San Saba presidio. Near Sisterdale, a little short of where the trail crossed the Guadalupe River, they were about to set up camp for the night, when one of the Rangers spotted a honey-bee hive. The temptation of something sweet couldn’t be resisted, but when he shinnied up the tree, he looked back along the trail and saw they were followed by a dozen Comanche warriors.

The Rangers saddled up; seeing they had been spotted, the Indians turned away, heading off towards a timber-lined ravine nearby … obviously hoping to draw the Ranger troop into an ambush. Jack Hays held fast, and within minutes more than seventy impatient Comanche boiled out of the tree-line and the Rangers advanced. Likely the Comanche were surprised and unnerved; they fell back across the ravine and gathered on the summit of a low hill, where they dismounted and taunted the Rangers in Spanish – a language that Comanche and Texian had in common.

They had the high ground but the Rangers had a secret weapon – the newly-invented patent Colt Paterson 5-shot repeating pistols. Most had two, and Jack Hays had drilled them well. He led his troop around the knoll, and up another ravine, announcing themselves with a shout and a volley of rifle-fire. The Comanche rallied around their leader; Yellow Wolf, experienced in the customary way of war, in which they waited to draw fire from single-shot weapons, and counter-attacked in a flurry of arrows as the Texians reloaded. This process could take as long as a minute. But the Rangers threw aside their single-shot long guns and charged with their pistols. It turned into a bitter running fight at such close quarters that many participants were branded with powder burns. Jack Hays had trained and drilled tirelessly. It was a rout for the Comanche, faced with a weapon where the attacker had as many bullets to command as fingers on a hand. At the moment when the Rangers were about out of time and gunpowder, a fortunate shot by the only Ranger with a loaded rifle dropped Yellow Wolf. The survivors of his war party turned and ran.

Two years later, that skirmish was immortalized in the annals of American invention. At the start of the American war with Mexico, Sam Walker was back east, consulting with his fellow Yankee inventor Sam Colt about a redesign of the revolving pistol. Sam Walker wanted a heavier, sturdier, and less-complicated version – it would eventually be called the Walker Colt. At the urging of Sam Colt, Walker did a sketch of skirmish on the hills above Sisterdale and eventually it was embossed on the barrel of the improved revolver. And that’s the way it was, in the summer of 1844.

2014 Garden Update

Maytime Revels in the Garden

by Celia Hayes

Having been pretty serious about watering the garden every day – and that it rained buckets for a couple of days – the back yard veggie garden is looking pretty darned good this week. The beans have pretty well covered the tipi of poles arranged for their climbing convenience, and the bush beans have so far been somewhat productive. I have several batches of them going, having started them at different times since March 1. The tomatoes go up – or hang down in fairly impenetrable thickets, and we have this very week harvested the first couple of handfuls of cherry and tiny yellow pear tomatoes. The resident rat has nibbled at one or two … but I think that putting out the trap for him will put and end to that nonsense within a couple of days … before the seriously large heirlooms ripen.

Even so, the tomatoes in the larger hanging planters are covered with grape-sized green fruit, and the tomato plants in the raised beds of hardware cloth or chicken wire are doubled that, so the rat will have to be the size of a cocker spaniel in order to make much of a dent in them … but it’s still the principle of the thing. I didn’t spend more than $50 at Rainbow Gardens and about the same at Lowe’s for a nasty furry rodent freeloader to come along and help himself. He’s already helping himself to some of the pepper plant and eggplant leaves, too – biting them clean through the stems – and last week the most nearly ripe yellow banana pepper was eaten, every scrap but the stem. I had plans for that banana pepper, too. Think of the rat as a walking dead rat.

This year I took a chance on a couple of tomatillo plants – which have grown to near-shrub size, and adorned with little green balloon-like tomatillo husks … but as of yet, no evidence of tomatillos. Likewise with the bed of squash; two sorts, the round green patty-pan sort, and some kind of Lebanese zucchini variant. The plants are huge and sprawling, with some flower buds on them, under the leaves. I did send away from some specialty seeds for French gherkins, so that I can make proper cornichon pickles. It worked out to about .17 cents per seed, for a teeny packet of about twenty seeds – but they have also burgeoned to the point of climbing energetically their own tipi-arrangement. Note to self – save one of the resulting gherkins and allow to go to seed … for next year, of course.

The frost-killed shrubs that were planted originally to attract humming-birds have come roaring back as well. The back garden looks so very pleasant now – after the barren wasteland that it was in January and February – that I was moved to bring home some cans of pastel spray paint and re-do the café table and chairs in colors that matched the house, or trim and some of the pavers. The café set was a bargain from Big Lots, bought these many moons ago because they were attractive, sturdy and relatively cheap, but the colonial red I had painted them then had gotten faded and began to chip. Really, I think my next project will be to reclaim the back porch as a pleasant place to sit and view my garden bounty.

And did I mention the apple tree? Yes, I found an apple tree – but now I have to plant another one, so they can pollinate each other.

Bulverde and Spring Branch Market Days

Beautiful Bulverde

by Celia Hayes

This last Saturday was spent at the Bulverde and Spring Branch Chamber of Commerce’s Spring Market Day – and my daughter and I spent all of Saturday among more than sixty vendors set up among the oak trees in the Beall’s parking lot, at Bulverde Crossing and Hwy 46W. Bulverde, Spring Branch, and Smithson Valley are … well, Bulverde is not so much a well-defined township as a place like Boerne, New Braunfels or Helotes. They were once entirely separate towns or hamlets, with a defined center – perhaps even an established square – overtaken in recent years by the sprawl of San Antonio to the north and extensive developments of new houses quilt-patched here and there among the old ranch properties, cedar thickets and rolling hills sprinkled with tiny seasonal creeks, grass-meadows and stands of oak trees.

Of course this is totally changed now – the sprawl of San Antonio Hill Country real estate is stretching out into the lower levels of the Hill Country. The nearer little towns are subsumed into the larger city and the farther ones are commuter-suburbs. Bulverde is a little harder to pin down, because it is not one of those with a central identity. It is like the place in California where my parents built their retirement home – one of those sprawling rural localities where there was a significant establishment here – a school or a significant church, perhaps, and another one there – the hardware store, maybe, and a third one –the general store or the tiny industrial enterprise which provided employment, still there … all scattered among several nexus cross-roads over several square miles. No, it doesn’t look like the classical definition of a town, but it is a community.

Bulverde is one of those; dispersed hither and yon around 281 and a couple of older parallel and cross-roads, rather like the rural township where my parents set up their retirement house. A couple of crossroads the length of a long valley in the foothills, with a number of small truck farms, chicken ranches, nut groves scattered along them, and essential retail outlets clustered around various cross-road nodes. Bulverde is all that, and patched with a good few recent housing developments rejoicing in being located in the Hill Country, and yet a short drive from the outskirts of San Antonio. One of the most prominent nodes is at 281 and 46W – it’s where the Super HEB and the Home Depot is, along with an elementary school and a couple of other essential retail outlets. It still has a rural feel to it, as those houses around are scattered throughout like raisons in a loaf of raisin bread. And the parking lot itself was partly shaded by oak trees left standing when the shopping center was built – which made it especially pleasant. Even so, we did get slightly sun-burned, though.

The Spring market is one of those which doesn’t charge a huge table fee – we rather think that this leads to a more interesting variety of vendors. Only the semi-pros can afford a high table fee, which leads pretty much to a certain sameness at larger and more regularly-held markets, as smaller or beginning vendors can’t be assured of making back the table fee and then a spot of profit. I think the most interesting and unusual items were from Natural Metals – all kinds of ornamental sculptures of animals, fish, and plants made from various metals and then painted. Next best – handcrafted wooden rolling horse toys from Soyawannabe A Cowboy, which were beautifully made and as sturdy as all get out. We lunched, by the way, on the best tamales evah! Tamale Addiction does a lot of local events, and the tamales were so good we wished we could have gone back and bought them out for future meals at the end of the day!

Sisterdale

Hill Country Venture

by Celia Hayes

So, knowing that on Saturday, May 10, that we will be tied up all day in the hot-pink-and-zebra-striped booth in the Beall’s parking lot at 281 and Bulverde Crossing for the Bulverde Spring market – and that we had some projects to finish before then – my daughter and I declared Friday, May 2 to be our personal holiday, and embarked on a short road trip into the Hill Country. Yes, we love the Hill Country, especially when it appears to have been blessed with slightly more rain than we have had in San Antonio. I wanted to get some snaps that I could use for the cover of my next book, but alas – the bluebonnets were at their best last month.

We went up through the back-road between Boerne and Luckenbach, which leads through Sisterdale; home of the Sister Creek Winery, and the Sisterdale Market just across the street from it – a tiny market, eatery and weekend event venue, where Chico the Tiny Chihuahua returned miraculously on last New Years Day, after an absence of about three weeks. We had a nice chat with the owner and admiring Chico, who apparently survived by hiding out in armadillo holes and drinking from a tiny spring, where his even tinier footprints were later noted. The Sisterdale Market is a charming place, in an old house by the side of the road. During Prohibition days, there was an illicit still in operation in the cellar – whoa – a cellar, for real? The still itself was, according to the current owner, taken out and buried someplace out in back. You’d have thought that the metal parts would have been easily found … but between Sister Creeks, the soil is rich and deep, and easily-dug.

The Sister Creek Winery is another indicator of how steadily the Hill Country is progressing to a state where it might yet be mistaken for the south of France; not only have entrepreneurs experimented with producing goat cheese, olive oil and lavender over the last twenty years or so – there are also vineyards galore. Sister Creek is one of the longer-established; even on a non-holiday Friday there were cars outside – including a massive white stretch limo.

The show-room is an old cotton-gin, built of heavy oak beams, low-ceilinged and smelling of ancient wood. The newer part, where the heavy-lifting of making wine is done, has been added at the back; rooms where the grapes are processed and aged, first in huge stainless-steel tanks, and then in wooden barrels – rank after rank, each labeled with what they are and how long they have been sitting. Some of them are rather heavily stained around the massive wooden bung on top; and that lends another wonderful odor. When I was a very small child, I remember visiting a winery with my parents and grandparents; a wonderful place, set in a garden, and one huge wooden wine-vat, which must have measured at least thirty feet across, and two or three stories tall. It had been retired from active wine-ageing duty and converted into a kind of pavilion in the garden, but the smell of it inside was positively intoxicating in itself. I don’t know if any of the wineries here now age wine in huge wooden barrels like that any more – but it would be a landmark if they did. After all, everything in Texas is supposed to be bigger.

The Smell of Chili

I Love the Smell of Chili in the Morning …

For much of the 19th century and into the early Twentieth, this was a popular San Antonio thing – various of the public squares, notably Military Plaza and Market Square were the domain of the Chili Queens who established the custom of setting up tables and benches along the edges of the square, in the early evening and selling chili-by-the-bowl to all comers. They would bring huge kettles of chili which they had made over their own home cook-fire during the day, and keep it warm through the evening and into the wee hours.

Very often the chili vendors would entice customers to their own particular stands by hiring musicians to entertain diners. There are some splendid descriptions of how marvelous this would have appeared – lantern and starlight shining down on the tables, gleaming on glass soda bottles, while the scent of the chili and the mesquite smoke from the fires which kept it warm hung on the night air. During South Texas summers before the invention of air conditioning, this likely would have been about the most comfortable dining venue for working men, for those out for an evening of gambling and drinking in the various saloons … and in later decades, for those visiting from the North or the East, desirous of absorbing a little exotic local color.

And it was a very local delicacy in those years. Texans took readily to a venison or beef stew highly spiced with local chili peppers (with or without beans, with or without tomatoes), especially in the borderlands. But it was also a seasonal dish – generally only served in the spring and summer when the fresh peppers ripened and were available in the market. Air-dried whole chilies were available, of course – but they just didn’t provide the same flavor-punch. There may have been many local gourmands who adored chili and wished to eat it year round, but only one of them did anything about it.

This was a German-American, Willie Gebhardt, who got his start in food entrepreneurship by owning a beer-garden and restaurant in New Braunfels in the 1890s. It’s often said among the Irish that there was an Irishman at the start of any interesting cultural, technological or scientific effort, but in Texas in the late 19th century this most usually fell to a German. Willie Gebhardt, like many other local cooks, developed his own special recipe for chili, and served it often in season – but on the side, he began experimenting with a means of preserving the essential chili pepper flavor.

Eventually he hit upon a means of soaking ancho chili peppers, garlic, oregano and cumin in a water-alcohol mixture, then grinding it into a stiff paste, which was dried under low heat. When dried, it was ground into a powder using a coffee-grinder, and packed in air-tight glass bottles. It was immediately popular; Willie Gebhardt took out a patent, calling it Gebhardt’s Eagle Brand Chili Powder. By the turn of the century, he had opened a factory – patenting a number of machines to expedite the manufacture of chili powder, which became and still is insanely popular. Eventually his factory, under the direction of a brother-in-law branched out into providing ready-made canned chili, and other staple Tex-Mex foods.

Since this cuisine was largely unknown outside of the southwest, Gebhardt’s company published a cook-book instructing American cooks how to use chili powder – the first nationally-distributed cook-book on Mexican food. The original recipe for Eagle Brand Chili Powder is still available, supposedly unchanged, although the company was sold to Beatrice Foods following on the death of Willie Gebhardt in 1956. (It’s available on Amazon – so is a facsimile of the original Gebhardt’s Mexican cookbook.)

Gotta Have Heart

You Gotta Have Heart!

Ah, yes – Fiesta Time is here once again; San Antonio’s very own Mardi Gras but with more couth. Or at least we like to think so. Around here, when the floats with the Fiesta female nobility pass, the crowd shouts, “Show us your shoes!” and not anything more revealing than that. Of all the scheduled events during a nearly-two-week-long city-wide block party, one of the most well-attended (to judge by the crowds every evening) is NIOSA, or Night In Old San Antonio, which features every kind of food booth imaginable in the little squares and streets of La Villita. One of the long-time favorites of NIOSA is a South American version of meat-onna-stick called ‘antichucios’, which a long-ago volunteer discovered while on an assignment in South America.

The recipe that I found calls for a marinade made by whirling 4 chopped jalapeno peppers in a blender with a little water and adding the resulting pepper slurry to 1 ½ cups red wine vinegar, 1 cup water, 1 tsp each cumin, paprika, and oregano with 2 tsp salt, ½ tsp black pepper, and a couple of crushed garlic cloves. Cut one large beef tenderloin or sirloin or top round into 1-inch cubes and marinate in the pepper/vinegar spice concoction overnight. Thread onto skewers and roast over hot coals, basting with marinade. The original version called for beef hearts – which since they are a muscle – are rather tough and need a powerful marinade. Otherwise – it’s like chewing steak-flavored rubber bands.

And I know this because – back in the day, when my parents were raising four children on a single salary, my mother joined a food co-op which offered serious bang for the food dollar. One of those bargains was beef hearts. Mom would bake it, thinly slivered in a casserole with rice, and my father would inevitably break out in song – from the musical Damn Yankees:

Damn Yankees

“You’ve gotta have heart
Miles ‘n miles n’ miles of heart
Oh, it’s fine to be a genius of course
But keep that old horse
Before the cart First you’ve gotta have heart!”

The casserole was an oblong enameled cast-iron number and very heavy; they loved each other very much, since Mom never hauled off and brained Dad with it.

Speaking of food, and saving money on it and all – the last couple of weeks of mild weather have done wonderfully for my little patch of back yard paradise. The first embryo tomatoes were spotted this morning, and the plants are simply covered in blossoms. This might be the year that I actually have enough tomatoes to think about canning and preserving them. I followed a suggestion on another blog for making raised beds – a circular construction of chicken wire, lined with weed barrier, and filled to within ten inches of the top with leaves, which gently compost as you grow stuff in the top ten inches or so of soil. It’s working pretty well so far – even better than topsy-turvey hanging planters. The raised bed full of potatoes is also thriving, and the pole beans are launching themselves up the poles with energy and enthusiasm. What a difference just over two weeks!

Oh – and if the thought of downtown Fiesta traffic gives you the willies – check out the Running of the Wiener-Dogs in Buda. This year’s poster is a wee bit of a change from the usual movie-theme. This year it’s a TV show: Yes, it’s Dog Dynasty…

San Antonio Book Festival

In the Shade of the Big Enchilada

By Celia Hayes

Well, that is the fond nickname given to the Central Library building in downtown San Antonio – a hulking cube with geometric cut-outs, painted in a shade of dark orange which always reminded me of paprika. This last weekend, the Central Library and the campus of the Southwest School for Art and Craft across the street from it was the site for the second annual San Antonio Book Festival. This is the kind of book bash which is a small brother of the Texas Book Festival, which is huge, as far as local writers are concerned. Alas, the Texas Book Festival is so huge, that I couldn’t even begin to afford an exhibitor table there, either as a writer for my own books, or as the owner of Watercress Press and for the benefit of the authors that we do publish. But I could afford a single table at the San Antonio Book Festival, so off we went, very early Saturday morning, with two tubs of books, a tub of table accoutrements, some nicely-printed flyers enlarging on what Watercress Press could do for you, and a tall standing vase filled with origami flowers and leaves which had the company name and website printed on the origami leaves.

by Celia HayesThe rows of exhibitor tables were already set up in the parking lot of the Southwest School – three or four rows of neat white pop-up canopies, and white-topped tables with blue skirts, each neatly numbered and the exhibitor’s name in larger letters. We were supposed to have help from volunteers in orange tee-shirts standing by, ready to assist, but the ones which we saw on the way in seemed mostly uncertain of what they should be doing for us; in any case, what materiel we had could be easily moved on the folding dolly. I wound up dragging it all myself, and locating our table; easily enough, since I had been sent a map of the exhibitor layout.
It was overcast the entire day, and early on there was an occasional gust of breeze which sent flyers and business cards and other papers all over the place. If the sun had come out, it might have been quite pleasant – but in any case, it was better than our last outdoor venue – Christmas on the Square at Goliad, this last December, which event was utterly wrecked by bitter cold. Perhaps there would have been more foot traffic through the exhibitor area, but I can’t complain.

Of the three Watercress authors who took a stint at the table, the first was pleased because he sold two books, the second because we made contact with a woman collecting author information with an eye to setting up events on base at Randolph AFB, and the third because I sent her over to speak to the people in the Texas Association of Authors booth. That is a relatively new Austin-based group for independently-published Texas authors. I have met some of the members before, and better yet, thumbed through their books. Better yet, I had even bought one of them, a reference book on early Austin history. They are set up to do events with an organization table, with all of their members’ books – including the aforementioned Texas Book Festival, which happens every year in late October, on the grounds of the state capitol building in Austin. That basis alone would be an excellent reason for joining them.

Home again, at the end of a long day, exhausted and ready for a glass or two of wine, a frozen pizza baking in the oven and an episode or two of the old TV series Upstairs, Downstairs. And that was my weekend – yours?

Hanging Gardens of Spring Creek Forest

The Splendid Hanging Gardens of Spring Creek Forest – Spring 2014

by Celia Hayes

All right then – I confess that after last year’s disastrous tomato adventure – in which that which wasn’t killed by the heat was demolished by invading rats – I could be forgiven for giving up entirely. But darn it, the year before was so bountiful … well, not really all that bountiful, but a good many dinners enlivened with fresh sliced tomatoes on the salad. I hunger for fresh garden tomatoes, and it’s too darned far to drive down to Trader Joe’s for a box of their assorted baby heirloom tomatoes every day or so, with gas over $3.00 a gallon. I stocked up at Rainbow Gardens on a wide assortment of heirloom tomato starts, after the unseasonable hard freeze at the end of February, and embarked again on the adventure of a thriving backyard garden.

Some of the tomatoes are growing in the hanging containers, or in single surviving Topsy-Turvy, but most are in large pots, or in a pair of round raised beds – the suggestion of a commenter on a gardening discussion forum. It seems that you can take a length of hardware cloth or other wire mesh, or even chicken wire, make a circular form about the size of an oil drum with it, line with landscape fabric or weed barrier, dump leaves, grass, twigs, etc to fill it up to within ten inches of the top, then fill the rest with garden soil or potting mix. The stuff underneath composts merrily away, even as the vegetables grow … and in colder climates, the rotting compost even keeps the tomatoes going well into late fall. Lord knows, I have a sufficiency of leaves, what with the Arizona trashtree, and my next door neighbors’ oak molting frequently and generously, and little space to compost them. May as well put them to use as a basis for raised beds

The good garden news this week is that the two sapling fruit trees I bought at Sam’s Club for a pittance sometime in January have both begun to put out tiny green leaves. I thought the peach tree would be OK, as it had noticeable buds swelling the ends of the branches, and when I cautiously pruned an end of the branch, it was supple and green underneath, but the plum was more of an enduring question. It just sat there, sullenly, week after week, all bare twiggy limbs long after the peach began putting forth tiny green leaves. This week, the plum began bringing forth leaves of its own, and I was relieved. Naturally, it will be years before we have any fruit from them, but the speed at which the two crepe myrtle trees and the fig tree grew encourages me no end.

The new flowerbed by the front door – that one which my daughter and I built up when we re-did the brick step – is also doing very, very well. All of the bulbs have come up, the rose bush is thriving mightily, some of the scattered seeds have produced … well, something, and the four narrow planters where I planted mesclun salad greens have done well enough to have been harvested for salads several times already. I planted another round of mesclun greens in back, in two lengths of guttering nailed to the fence – another suggestion from an on-line garden discussion. Cap off the ends of a length of gutter, fill with garden soil, and there you have – a vertical garden. I’d really like to have this be the year that I hardly have to purchase any produce at all.

Renaissance Fair

Ren Faire

by Celia Hayes

I’ve always thought there was a need in these mostly settled American late 20th century time for people to dress up and be something else for a while. There are local hard-core historical reenactors who do get very, very deep into this, in part to educate people generally about specific events and times in American history. Then there is the Society for Creative Anachronism, where lurk those folks who do more of the European medieval thing, with jousting and swordfights and all that. And the science fiction conventions, where fans of particular movies and TV shows costume for the duration, and take it all very seriously. My daughter and I had a friend through the Salt Lake City con who routinely dressed as a Klingon. One year he came as a Star Fleet officer, and we didn’t recognize him at all, until he spoke – he had a strong Scots accent. But then there are those who just get into it for fun at a Renaissance fair, where the costumes and gear are required for performers and vendors, and optional for the rest of us.

I only did the full Tudor/Elizabethan costume once – when Mom took us to the original and founding Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Southern California, sometime in the late 1960s. Which was held at that time in a dusty and live-oak grown park in Agoura, a place which so little looked like England that it may as well have been a tropical island in the South Pacific. By which I mean, it didn’t much look like England at all. But the enthusiasts set up booths and pavilions and tents, and there were jesters and jugglers and Queen Elizabeth’s court, all in heavy brocade and velvet costumes, and vendors selling whole roasted turkey legs, and pastries made with whole wheat flour – which tasted pretty much like cardboard. Banners flew in the clear California summer air, there was heraldry everywhere, and some kind of Rennaissance-ish costume was encouraged.

I made costumes for my younger sister and myself. Mom had sacrificed a couple of tablecloths, a sheet or two, and I had bought a couple of packets of RIT dye – my usual raw materials when it came to costumes – and a large roll of gold fabric upholstery braid bought from a small upholstery shop on Foothill Boulevard which was going out of business. Their bad fortune, but my good, for I paid only a couple of dollars for the roll of braid, and it was enough to lavishly trim a pair of Tudor-style gowns – with matching French hoods. I think I drew up the patterns by eye from a costume book, inspired by having watched The Six Wives of Henry VIII on the local public channel. We brought our costumes and changed in the ladies’ lavatory … and then sweltered for the rest of the day. I can only imagine how the performers in heavier costumes with the required underpinnings of corsets, bum-rolls and multiple petticoats suffered in the heat, all day and every day.

This weekend, though – we’re getting back into a little of that, with the Lost in Wonderland event – a tribute to Tim Burton movies, by the look of their Facebook page, but it looks like a gathering for the same kind of fans of the SCA, Ren-Faire and cons. And next month – there will be a local Ren Faire at St. Francis Episcopal Church. There is a discount for coming in costume, but my daughter absolutely refuses to play.

Gardening March 2014

Planning for the Garden

By Celia Hayes

Once more into the breach, my friends; with the date of the last predicted frost in South Texas historically being in mid-March, it’s time to get started with vegetables. Indeed, the local HEB began putting out vegetable starts late in February, when the temperatures became so balmy and mild that I was seriously tempted in indulge – after all, $1.00-1.25 for a four-inch pot with a healthy young plant in it? Yes, I was eager to enter the fray once again, after last years’ disastrous tomato-growing debacle. It was too hot, too soon, and those plants which did manage to bear fruit … well, the rats got to them. Not just the tomatoes, but the fresh young sprigs, and the leaves of the pepper plants as well.

The very Sunday afternoon that I finished setting out the various starts from HEB – even as I was assembling the patent tomato cage, the cold front blew in. There I was, working in jeans and a short-sleeved shirt on a warm and muggy afternoon; we had even been running the AC, since it was so warm. Then, suddenly, I felt a cool breeze, as if the AC had suddenly kicked in outside, and within ten minutes it felt as it it had dropped fifteen degrees. We rushed the newly-planted tomato and pepper starts into the greenhouse, along with the tenderer of the potted plants, but to no avail. The water in the birdbaths was frozen hard the next morning, and the newly-planted lantanas by the walkway were pretty well frost-scorched. Even the new green leaves on the ash trees were hit. Curiously, the long containers of lettuce and salad greens by the new flower bed at the front door as well as the bulbs in it – all of which had just sprouted in the last week or so — survived just fine, under cover of a heavy blanket. But everything else, even the pole beans which had just put up two or three leaves … alas.

So they are not kidding when they tell you how fast a cold front can blow in. And they also were not kidding about the last frost being in mid-March. Fortunately, I still had plenty of pole and bush bean seeds, so I’ve only lost a couple of weeks as far as they are concerned. And on Friday, we bustled over to Rainbow Gardens, which offered row upon row of tomato starts, plain, fancy, heirloom, large and small, early and late. I’ve gotten half a dozen of them into the grow box, and the rest must wait for a bag of fresh potting soil to go into the topsy-turvy planters. I’m also figuring out a way to do space-saving and self-sustaining raised beds, rather than depending on the compost bin and my vast collection of large pots. There’s a kind of raised circular bed called a key-hole garden, with a working compost heap in the center, which looks very attractive and useful, but being circular would take up too large a chunk of the back yard. Another suggestion was a series of low columns about the diameter of fifty-gallon drums, made of chicken wire lined with straw or even weed barrier, with compost working in the bottom two-thirds, and a layer of potting soil on top with plants growing in it, which would be a bit more practical for me, space-wise.

And that is my week in the garden – yours?